Unintended consequences of US aggression could doom us all
Noam Chomsky says the choice is between civilisation and domination
IF ANYTHING is obvious from the history of warfare, it's that very little
can be predicted.
In Iraq, the most awesome military force in human history has attacked a
much weaker country - an enormous disparity of force.
It will be some time before even preliminary assessments of the consequences
can be made. Every effort must be dedicated to minimising the harm, and to
providing the Iraqi people with the huge resources that are required for
them to rebuild their society post-Saddam - in their own way, not as
dictated by foreign rulers.
There is no reason to doubt the near-universal judgment that the war in Iraq
will only increase the threat of terror and the development and use of
weapons of mass destruction, for revenge or deterrence.
In Iraq the Bush administration is pursuing an "imperial ambition" that is,
rightly, frightening the world and turning the US into an international
pariah. The avowed intent of current US policy is to assert a military power
that is supreme in the world and beyond challenge. US preventive wars may be
fought at will - preventive, not pre-emptive.
Whatever the justifications for pre-emptive war may sometimes be, they do
not hold for the very different category of preventive war: the use of force
to eliminate a contrived threat.
That policy opens the way to protracted struggle between the US and its
enemies, some of them created by violence and aggression, and not just in
the Middle East. In that regard, the US attack on Iraq is an answer to Osama
bin Laden's prayers.
For the world the stakes of the war and its aftermath almost couldn't be
higher. To select just one of many possibilities, destabilisation in
Pakistan could lead to a turnover of "loose nukes" to the global network of
terrorist groups, which may well be invigorated by the invasion and military
occupation of Iraq. Other possibilities, no less grim, are easy to conjure
Yet the outlook for more benign outcomes isn't hopeless - starting with the
world's support for the victims of war, brutal tyranny and murderous
sanctions in Iraq.
A promising sign is that opposition to the invasion, before and after the
fact, has been entirely without precedent. By contrast, 41 years ago this
month, when the Kennedy administration announced that US pilots were bombing
and strafing in Vietnam, protest was almost nonexistent. It did not reach
any meaningful level for several years.
Today, there is large-scale, committed and principled popular anti-war
protest all over the US and the world. The peace movement acted forcefully
even before the war started.
That reflects a steady increase over these years in the unwillingness to
tolerate aggression and atrocities, one of many such changes worldwide. The
activist movements of the past 40 years have had a civilising effect.
By now, the only way for the US to attack a much weaker enemy is to
construct a huge propaganda offensive depicting it as the ultimate evil - or
even as a threat to our very survival. That was Washington's scenario for
Nevertheless, peace activists are in a much better position now to stop the
next turn to violence, and that is a matter of extraordinary significance.
A large part of the opposition to Bush's war is based on recognition that
Iraq is only a special case of the "imperial ambition" declared forcefully
in last September's National Security Strategy.
For perspective on our present situation, it may be useful to attend to very
Last October the nature of threats to peace was dramatically underscored at
the summit meeting in Havana on the 40th anniversary of the Cuban missile
crisis, attended by key participants from Cuba, Russia and the US.
The fact that we survived the crisis was a miracle. We learnt that the world
was saved from nuclear devastation by one Russian submarine captain, Vasily
Arkhipov, who countermanded an order to fire nuclear missiles when Russian
submarines were attacked by US destroyers near Kennedy's "quarantine" line.
Had Arkhipov agreed, the nuclear launch would almost certainly have set off
an interchange that could "destroy the Northern Hemisphere", as Eisenhower
The dreadful revelation is particularly timely because of the circumstances:
the roots of the missile crisis lay in international terrorism aimed at
"regime change", two top-of-mind concepts today.
US terrorist attacks against Cuba began shortly after Castro took power, and
were sharply escalated by Kennedy, right up to the missile crisis and
The new discoveries demonstrate with brilliant clarity the terrible and
unanticipated risks of attacks on a "much weaker enemy" aimed at "regime
change", risks that could doom us all, it is no exaggeration to say.
The US is opening up new and dangerous paths in the face of near-unanimous
There are two ways for Washington to respond to the threats that are, in
part, engendered by its actions and startling proclamations.
One way is by paying some attention to legitimate grievances, and agreeing
to become a civilised member of a world community, with some respect for
world order and its institutions.
The other is to construct even more awesome engines of destruction and
domination so that any perceived challenge, however remote, can be crushed -
provoking new and greater challenges.
* Chomsky is a political activist, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the bestseller 9-11. He has just published Power and Terror